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Year Abroad in Spain: British Council Teach English Programme
Whilst the admin and visa application process associated with doing a year abroad can be truly painful and time-consuming, I assure you that it will all be worth it once you’ve boarded that plane to Spain, France, Germany, or wherever you’ve decide to escape to. In this series of blogs, I will cover my top tips and advice on how to prepare for the year abroad and some bucket list destinations within Spain that you too can visit once there to hopefully help motivate and ease the anxieties of those of you getting ready to spend the upcoming year abroad. To begin, however, I’ll give an overview of my experience participating in the British Council’s English Language Assistants (ELA) programme.
As a Hispanic Studies student, I was given the option to either work or study abroad for my third year. I knew I wanted to work, as I needed a little break from studying and also to get some solid work experience (and money) under my belt. We weren’t given a huge amount of time to decide what exactly we wanted to do, so I thought that instead of finding my own job placement in Spain I would take the British Council ELA option, which was also offered to us by the university (undergraduate language students going on their year abroad get priority for this, I believe). We had to submit the British Council application by the beginning of February, which included answering a range of generic application questions. It also consisted of more precise questions, for example asking our top three choices for regional allocation in Spain, whether we would prefer to live in a city, town, or village, and whether we would like to teach young kids, teenagers, or adults. I was fortunate enough to be allocated my top regional choice (Murcia), which was my personal preference, as I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t be in a tourist hotspot where English was spoken everywhere; I had also always wanted to travel to the south of Spain and be near beaches, so this was a bonus!
However, I also had to make compromises. I was allocated a teaching placement at a secondary school in a small town in the north of Murcia. I didn’t mind so much being in a town, as again it gave me huge exposure to the Spanish language (with barely any English speakers living there) and local, authentic life in the Spanish countryside, which invaluably benefitted my linguistic skills and independence. Teaching secondary school kids, on the other hand, was definitely not my top choice, as I knew it would require a lot of patience and, quite frankly, a lot of confidence to be able to discipline teenagers who were not that much younger than me (and who sometimes came with an insane amount of cockiness).
Having said this, I ended up really enjoying my time at the school. My contract was only twelve hours a week, with either a Monday or Friday free every week. This gave me plenty of time to rest after the more mentally-exhausting lessons, as well as run private tuition classes in the afternoons. Transport out of my town wasn’t so readily available and the nearest cities were at least an hour away by coach/train, so teaching extra English classes and just going for hikes around the local area (which was super mountainous and scenic) was a great way to spend time after the school day ended at 2pm.
Besides this, I got really efficient at preparing materials, PowerPoint presentations, and – most importantly – Kahoots quickly for each of my classes as time went on. I expected to be helping out more within small group activities, so as an assistant, but I really ended up assuming the role of the teacher for each class, focusing on teaching English language and culture lessons to students aged 11-16 each week. Every other week, I helped out in a range of other subjects that were taught in English, from History and Geography to PE and IT, as well as offering support in more advanced classes for the 16-18 year olds. As could be expected, there were highs and lows throughout the year, particularly given that when working with teenagers everything really depended on how they were feeling and how much they wanted to collaborate. However, by the end of the programme I had built great connections with all of my students and we had had some great laughs together, so we will certainly never forget each other!
Overall, if you are looking to develop your professional skill set, get into teaching, or simply gain experience living and working abroad, I would definitely recommend the British Council’s ELA programme. Earning a monthly stipend is super useful (as well as rewarding) whilst abroad for getting by on a day-to-day basis, especially given how late most of us received our Erasmus+ grants and maintenance loans last year. Not to mention, the lack of studying and exam pressure is pure bliss and will help you to make the most of your year away from “normal” university life.